Preparing For College Entrance Exams Throughout High School

5 min to read
A teenage girl is taking notes during an online class

Not sure how to start preparing for the ACT or SAT? Unsure which test you should take? There’s a lot that goes into the college prep process, even as your student enters their first year of high school. Knowing how to prepare for entrance exams is key and we’ll help you get started with our year-to-year test preparation checklist.

One thing to note is that some colleges don’t have a preference when it comes to which test you take, so don’t feel like you are tied to one—or both. Check with the college admissions website or speak with your college counselor to help guide your student though how to prepare for college exams. Follow this checklist to determine which test is right for you, if not both. Let’s get started! 


9th-Grade College Prep Checklist 

Objective: Start planning.

  • Research – Start researching the difference(opens in a new tab) between the two tests.  
  • Map Out a Plan – Work with a school or college counselor to create a four-year course plan for college based on subjects you enjoy and what you are hoping to pursue after college. 
  • Organize and Build Resources – Bookmark SAT and ACT test prep resources to refer to later or build a college entrance exam study guide. 
  • Pinpoint Interests – Identify SAT subject tests that align with your interests or with your AP®* or honors class. 
  • Enable Skills  Start practicing test-anxiety-reducing tactics and good study habits
  • Consider Pros & Cons – If you are considering taking either test before your junior year, you should note the pros and cons. 
    • Pros:  
      • You will be able to benchmark your progress and will be more aware of the subjects that take more practice. 
      • You will be more thoroughly prepared each time you take the test. 
    • Cons:
      • Some colleges do not allow you to select which scores are sent when you apply, so if your scores are low during your first and sophomore years, then the colleges you apply to may see these scores. 
      • You may get burned out quickly. Preparing for these tests can be overwhelming, so you may want to take it slow. Remember that your scores for these tests are just a piece of your college admission puzzle. 


10th-Grade College Prep Checklist

Objective: Decide which test, if not both, is best for you.

  • Access Free Study Resources – There’s no need to pay for resources until you have decided which test, if not both, you will take. Here are some helpful options to consider: 
  • PSAT Feedback – Consider taking the PSAT(opens in a new tab) by signing up with your school counselor. 
  • Practice, Practice, Practice – Take a free ACT practice test.
  • College and Career Planning – Start researching careers and schools you may be interested in. It can help to attend college fairs and “College Chats.” You can also check each college’s website for more information on score requirements, and check with the college admissions website or admissions advisor to make sure they don’t prefer one test over the other. 
  • Entrance Test Selection – Decide which test is best for you, if not both, once you have taken practice tests and thoroughly researched both tests. Talk with your school counselor to help make this decision.   


11th-Grade College Prep Checklist 

Objective: Take one or both tests, and report scores.

  • Identify College Test Score Requirements – As you decide on schools you will apply to, research test scores for your key colleges. 
  • Register for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT  Register and plan to take the PSAT and either, or both, the ACT or SAT. 
  • Study and Practice – Three months before each test date, create a study schedule(opens in a new tab) that works for you or organize a study group that meets once a week. When practicing, set up the same environment for the ACT or the SAT and work through a practice test alone to simulate the test day(opens in a new tab)
  • Consider Online Prep Courses –Once you have chosen the test or tests you want to take, consider purchasing the SAT online course or the ACT online prep for a thorough breakdown of each test. Be sure to ask your school’s counselor if your school offers any preparatory materials or tools as well. This can be a great way to save on materials and course costs. 
  • Prepare Mentally and Physically – Mentally and physically prepare for the test ahead of time. 
  • Take and Re-Take Test (if necessary) – Consider retaking a test, if necessary. Check your scores against the testing requirements for each college you applied to. 
  • Release Scores – Send scores for the SAT and/or ACT to colleges and scholarship programs. 


12th-Grade College Prep Checklist

Objective: Boost your scores, if necessary.

  • College Counseling – Meet with your counselor the summer before senior year to help decide whether you need to retake either test based on your scores. 
  • Identify Winning Test Scores – If you do take a test again, learn how your scores are sent with multiple tests. 
    • If you took the ACT more than once, you can choose which test scores are reported to colleges and scholarships. However, you cannot mix and match scores. You must pick one test or multiple tests all at once. 
    • If you took the SAT more than once, you can also choose which test scores are reported to colleges and scholarships with “Score Choice.”(opens in a new tab)
  • Release New Scores – Send your scores for the SAT and/or ACT to colleges and scholarship programs. 


Whether you attend an online high school or traditional school, taking the ACT and/or the SAT is just a part of the college preparation process. Connections Academy’s virtual school students receive helpful college counseling support and learn valuable life skills as they prepare for college and whatever comes next. 


*AP® and Advanced Placement® are registered trademarks of the College Board. Used with permission.

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  • 4 Tips for Empowering Students to Persevere

    by Valerie Kirk

    A mother helping her son with school work

    "It's not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer."—Albert Einstein

    What does it take to persevere in the face of tough class assignments or even boredom? Is perseverance a trait students are born with, or is it a skill set, an attitude they can develop over time? 

    Online schools help foster student perseverance by empowering them to take greater responsibility for their own learning as they mature. For parents and Learning Coaches new to online school, it’s important to know that your students can develop the power to persevere—and that you can help.   

    It all begins with the right mind-set. 


    Mind-Set: Building the Foundations to Persevere 

    Think about it. Does your student believe he or she is simply "bad" at a particular subject, that no amount of effort can make up for a lack of natural talent? From this faulty fixed mind-set, perseverance or persistence is pointless. Giving up in the face of difficulty seems logical. 

    But for students who understand that talent and intelligence can be developed through effort and hard work, persevering just makes sense. From this growth mind-set, perseverance eventually pays off. 

    Fortunately, there are simple strategies you can use to both reinforce the growth mind-set and empower your students to persevere. Here are four tips for teaching perseverance. 


    4 Tips for Promoting Perseverance 


    1. Encourage positive self-talk and mindfulness. 

    "I'm just no good at this."  
    "This is too hard." 
    "I'm too far behind to catch up."

    Telltale signs of a fixed mind-set, statements such as these can sap your student’s willpower and your patience. Remind your students that they would never say such negative things to a friend who was struggling with a problem.  

    When faced with negative self-assessments, help your student reframe them into more positive ones, such as: 

    “I’m not good at this, YET!” 
    "This is hard, but if I keep trying, I will eventually get it." 
    "I’m behind now, but I can come up with a plan to catch up."

    To help students break the cycle of negative thinking, encourage them to practice mindfulness—the process of observing their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Age-appropriate mindfulness techniques can help calm self-doubts and give students a greater sense of self-control, a prerequisite for persistence. 


    2. Praise effort and process, not intelligence.

    We used to believe that telling kids they were smart would boost their self-confidence and academic performance. But studies now show that this kind of praise can discourage student perseverance by suggesting effort is less important to success than intelligence.  

    To help them learn perseverance, praise students for completing difficult assignments and focus on how hard they tried. Be specific in complimenting the process they used to tackle their tasks, such as breaking large goals into smaller tasks. To reinforce the growth mindset, point out how their abilities are growing through their own hard work. 


    3. Put failures and mistakes into a growth perspective.

    Some students, especially perfectionists, have an excessive fear of failure. They avoid it by giving up on subjects or activities that don’t come easily. Other students mistakenly equate a failure with a lack of intelligence or talent, taking needless hits to their self-esteem. Your own reaction to failure can make a powerful impact. When your students face setbacks, explain that failure is an expected part of the learning process that actually helps build intelligence and stamina. Taking a matter-of-fact approach, encourage your students to analyze what went wrong, seek help where needed, and try again…and again. 


    4. Give your students the chance to struggle.

    As a Learning Coach, you may be tempted to rush in to help when you see your students struggling with an assignment or problem. But struggle is essential to building self-confidence, independence, and perseverance. Resist the urge to intervene immediately, thereby allowing them time to figure it out on their own. (You can always intervene later if you see the struggle is becoming unproductive or too frustrating.) 

    By trying these approaches, you can help your child grow in tenacity and focus—character traits that contribute to success in college and in career. An added bonus is that when students do succeed after struggling, the victory is all theirs. And with virtual school, you can be there to enjoy each success and take pride in seeing your child develop a "can-do" spirit! 


    Perseverance Examples 

    Accredited online schools like Connections Academy help develop student perseverance by empowering them to become independent learners as they mature. Perseverance examples (aka stories from our students overcoming education challenges) come in all shapes and sizes.  

    If your student is currently enrolled in a brick-and-mortar school or you are homeschooling and are interested in exploring online school, take a look at these sample school schedules built by families to start exploring the flexibility (and other) benefits of online school.  

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